Padma Lakshmi: A reason to tune in to “Top Chef”


After the heads up in Best. Lesbian. Week. Ever. I was all set to cheer on my primary rooting interest, Sandee Birdsong, on Bravo’s competitive reality TV show Top Chef. I was prepared to “take one for the team,” so to speak, and do something I have relatively little interest in doing, and that’s watching someone cook. Generally speaking, watching someone cook is almost equivalent, not quite but almost, to watching someone iron shirts or wash and fold clothes. It all seems very labor-intensive, and labor is tough for me, especially if I think someone is going to ask me to help them. But this being TV, I knew I was safe from that possibility. So I got over my fears and was excited to cheer Sandee on to victory! But Sandee was unfairly, unjustly, un-everythingly sent home in the second week! (I don’t care if it wasn’t BBQ. None of those people BBQed, they grilled!)

So why am I still watching this show?

Her name is Padma Lakshmi.

Padma Lakshmi is not a contestant; she’s the host. Her name just sounds so culinary, doesn’t it? Like a lovely combination of pad Thai and sashimi. (Look, I never said I didn’t like food — I said I didn’t like watching people prepare it). I noticed Lakshmi in the very first episode, but I was there for Sandee, darn it, and I did not allow my usual “find the pretty girl” syndrome to affect my focus. I had my game face on. In episode 2, the episode in which Sandee was wronged (so what if she used the grill solely as a heating device for her hot plate of lobster?), I found my curiosity was piqued each time Lakshmi came on screen. But I tried to repress my interest in her for the sake of Sandee. But then it happened. Poof! Sandee was told to pack her knives and head home. I was despondent for a week, like when your favorite sports team loses in the playoffs. I had to make a decision: Do I keep watching?

Well, something made me tune in once again the following week. Maybe it was habit (fine, I had only watched it twice, but habits form quickly sometimes), but in episode 3, I had my Padma Lakshmi epiphany. The episode began with Lakshmi wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with a sleeveless vest-type thing, and I noticed for the first time (yes, I’m slow on the uptake) this incredible scar on her arm. I sat and stared. Transfixed. I loved the contrast of her physical beauty with what many would see as a flaw but which actually gives her an immediate surge in character and appeal. Obviously, it is such a part of who she is, and I loved that she wore what she wanted — not just in the privacy of her home or in her personal life, but on television. It just felt so liberating, so bold, so in-your-face, so, so, lesbian! As I began my quest to learn more about Lakshmi, I ran across the Ten Things You Don’t Know About Women piece she did for Esquire. Lo and behold, I read No. 6 and sighed:

6. When women say they don’t fantasize about other men, they’re lying.

But then I read No. 7 and cried:

7. When we say we don’t fantasize about any other women, we’re lying then, too.

Yes, Padma, liars are they all! Well, about No. 7.

Lakshmi has the exquisite looks of a goddess; she writes award-winning cookbooks like she’s Betty Crocker; she has TV and film credits like any other would-be actress; she is an ex-model like, like, heck who isn’t an ex-model; and she married and recently divorced a famous writer of famous books that evoke infamous death threats. She’s a modern-day Renaissance woman.

Now, after singing Lakshmi’s praises, I must admit that what I love about her on the show is that she does relatively nothing except sample all the delicious and not-so-delicious treats of the contestants. She’s rarely on the screen at all. I haven’t quite been won over to cooking shows like my other esteemed colleague, but nibbling and criticizing and looking glamorous is a job description for which I’d love to submit a resume. Unfortunately for me, well, maybe fortunately for me, Ms. Lakshmi has the job all to herself, and that’s why I still care about Top Chef. I mean, we all have to do something at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesdays with or without Sandee, right? Bon appetit!

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